5 Times Scientists Played Animal Matchmakers
Most animal relationships look pretty effortless, but sometimes even Mother Nature needs a little push. We found five romantic (and not-so-romantic) stories of scientists stepping in where Cupid failed.
1. JEREMY, THE BACKWARD SNAIL
Appearance isn’t everything when you’re a snail, but it does help to at least have your genitals on the right side of your body. Researchers in the UK found a garden snail whose body plan—from the whorl of "his" shell to the location of his reproductive organs—was a mirror image of other snails’. They named their new backward friend Jeremy and asked the public for help finding another lefty snail to be his sweetie. Amazingly, they succeeded, although Jeremy is reportedly taking his time warming up to his date. (Snails are hermaphroditic, but the researchers decided to use male pronouns for Jeremy.)
2. ORANGUTAN TINDER
An orangutan at the National Zoo plays with an iPad. Image Credit: Jen Zoon, Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Researchers at one Dutch zoo are giving a female orangutan the chance to swipe and select her next mate. The four-year experiment was designed to improve 11-year-old Samboja’s odds of getting pregnant, as previous studies have found that mating success rates increase when animals get to choose their own partners.
As populations of endangered animals dwindle in the wild, so, too, do their gene pools. To help prevent inbreeding among captive-bred animals, researchers at Flinders University created SWINGER. This saucily named program uses a matchmaking algorithm to help conservationists identify suitable mates for the animals in their care.
4. KISSES FOR KOALAS
Diliff via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
The staff at the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation in Australia rely on similar genetic matchmaking programs to pair off local koalas and bilbies. They’re looking to build healthier, more resilient animals that will succeed and thrive in the wild. “We want little guys,” foundation director Al Mucci told Australia’s 9 News, “and lots of them returned back to the wild in those fragmented communities.”
5. A 16-ARMED EMBRACE
Nothing says “romance” like being set up, formally introduced, then monitored as you get your groove on. The Seattle Aquarium’s annual Octopus Blind Date event pairs two of-age Pacific octopuses, each weighing more than 40 pounds, for what aquarium staff hope will be a whirlwind affair. Each date is not without its risks; octopuses are naturally solitary creatures, and sometimes they’d rather eat each other than get it on.